Israel Gains Traction Developing Energy From Organic Waste

The country's efforts would reduce the seeping of methane into the atmosphere and help fight global warming.

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Israel is making rapid progress in its decade-long efforts to develop biogas, a renewable energy source produced by breaking down organic matter such as animal waste and garbage.

An initiative to produce energy based on a landfill has been launched by the Pri Hagalil fruit-canning factory in the Upper Galilee. And in the Hefer Valley in east-central Israel, plans are moving ahead to expand a biogas facility run on cattle manure and municipal garbage.

One example of biogas is methane. Ten years ago the first methane plant was set up at the former Hiriya landfill near Tel Aviv to provide energy for a local textile plant.

Soon seven landfills will be used to turn methane into energy. If methane is not exploited, it seeps from landfills into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.

Pri Hagalil will be drawing energy from one of these sites – the Te’enim landfill near Safed in the Galilee mountains. The Eastern Galilee and Golan Towns Association, which operates the site, has begun digging 26 wells into which methane will be drained.

From there the gas will be piped underground to operate a steam electricity system at Pri Hagalil some four kilometers away. The gas will replace the thousands of tons of expensive and polluting mazut that now operates the system.

Meanwhile, in the Hefer Valley, expansion is planned for a plant producing electricity from methane emitted by cow manure. Later the plant will also use organic household garbage.

|In recent years, the Environmental Protection Ministry has helped finance the methane industry. There will be even more of an incentive to find a use for organic garbage with the expected law prohibiting the burying of organic garbage.

Five facilities are in the planning stage in the Hefer Valley to take in organic waste, which will be transferred to tanks called anaerobic digesters where the methane is processed.

The Electricity Authority has already set the rate for the sale of electricity from these facilities. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, each facility one can produce 35 megawatts of electricity, one-tenth the power produced by a midsized power station.

“There are many possibilities for using biogas, and this is being done in many places in Europe and the northern United States,” said Willy Schumacher of U.S. construction and mining equipment maker Caterpillar, which is taking part in the Hefer Valley methane initiative.

Caterpillar, which is represented in Israel by Zoko Enterprises, expanded in gas energy by acquiring Germany's MWM.

“You can use gas to heat and cool, to generate electricity in factories and cities, so demand is rising,” Schumacher said. But he noted that the state would have to provide incentives. In Germany “it's still difficult for farmers or local authorities to operate these facilities economically.”

A plant for producing energy from methane in the Hefer Valley. Credit: Zafrir Rinat